Wei Jizhong, second right, has spoken about introducing sporting flexibility at the Asian Winter Games ©ITG

Introducing greater flexibility to the sports programme for the Asian Winter Games is being considered as a means to ensure more countries win medals.

Under plans mooted here today by Wei Jizhong, honorary life vice-president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), future hosts could be encouraged to propose competitions in additional sports.

This comes after just five countries have won medals here at the ongoing event closing today.

Japan, South Korea, China and Kazakhstan have together swept the 59 gold medals won so far while North Korea has also secured a solitary figure skating bronze.

Other nations have been competitive, with Chinese Taipei fourth in men's curling, Malaysia's men's relay team fourth in short track speed skating, Iranian Alpine skier Hossein Shemshaki Saveh fifth in the men's slalom and Uzbekistan figure skater Misha Ge sixth in the men's singles.

"Policies to share the medals among the participating National Olympic Committees has been proved very efficient under the guideline of OCA President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah," Wei said.

"In the [summer] Asian Games now, already 85 per cent of the participating NOCs has got at least one medal. 

"This is a very important tool to promote the sport in the country and region. 

"So, I think, in the future, like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), we would support reforms to allow the organisers to choose some sports popular in the country and in the continent and popular in the world. 

"With these I am sure, more NOCs will have the opportunity to get medals."

A more flexible sports programme could be considered after the dominance of the same four countries at Sapporo 2017 ©Getty Images
A more flexible sports programme could be considered after the dominance of the same four countries at Sapporo 2017 ©Getty Images

Eight countries won medals at the last edition of the Asian Winter Games held in Astana and Almaty in 2011.

However, the three extra countries mostly won their medals in sports not featured this time around.

Mongolia claimed silver and Kyrgyzstan bronze in a three team bandy competition won by the Kazakh hosts.

Iran also won silver and bronze in ski orienteering while Mongolia secured four bronze medals.

Mohammad Kiadarbandsari also secured an Iranian super-G bronze medal in Alpine skiing; with only technical slalom and giant slalom events held this time around.

Sliding sports would be another possibility if the Games took place somewhere with an existing track.

Bobsleigh, skeleton or luge competitions have never been held at the continental event, but India's Shiva Keshavan is currently the third ranked Asian men's singles luge competitor.

Ice climbing, a sport currently vying for a place on the Winter Olympic programme, is another contender, with Iran the second most successful Asian nation after South Korea in this season's World Cup series.

Another option would be to introduce winter versions of summer sports such as cross country running, where the likes of Qatar and Bahrain would be expected to do well.

The IOC have introduced a similar system of flexibility as part of their Agenda 2020 reform process.

Baseball and softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing will all duly feature at Tokyo 2020, although no such system has been considered for a Winter Olympics.

ice climbing is one sport which could be included on the Asian Winter Games programme ©UIAA
ice climbing is one sport which could be included on the Asian Winter Games programme ©UIAA

Speaking alongside figures including Sapporo Lord Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto, Wei praised many elements of the Games concluding here today.

This included the organisation, volunteers and the large number of spectators present.

Seventy-nine per cent of tickets were sold for the Games, officials said, while the 10,000 spectators who attended the four days of speed skating in Obihiro Forest was a record capacity for the venue.

He also spoke enthusiastically about the participation of Australia, New Zealand and other Oceania countries in future editions of the Asian Winter Games.

However, he warned that they must send more athletes and embrace the event more fully.

Cross country skier Casey Wright gained Australia's only top three finish by placing third in the classical sprint final, although she did not win a medal because the country only held "guest" status at these Games.